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The David and Marvel Benton Trust v. McCarty

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 16, 2016

DOROTHY B. MCCARTY, Defendant-Appellant.

         2016 Opinion No. 131

         Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Hon. Gregory M. Moeller, District Judge.

         The district court's summary judgment is affirmed. Costs and attorney fees on appeal are granted to the Trust.

          Cox, Ohman & Brandstetter, Chtd., Idaho Falls, attorneys for appellant. John Ohman argued.

          Cooper & Larsen, Chtd., Pocatello, attorneys for respondent. Gary Cooper argued.

          W. JONES, Justice

         I. Nature of the Case

         Dorothy B. McCarty ("McCarty" or "Appellant") appeals a grant of summary judgment in which the district court held that a quitclaim deed granting certain real property to McCarty (the "Quitclaim Deed") was unenforceable as a matter of law because it did not contain an adequate description of the subject property. The following issues were raised on appeal: (1) whether Idaho Code section 55-606 bars the grantors' successors in interest from challenging the enforceability of the Quitclaim Deed that the grantors themselves executed; (2) whether the district court erred in striking evidence of the grantors' intent at the time they executed the deed; (3) whether the district court erred in finding that the Quitclaim Deed did not contain an adequate description of the subject property; (4) whether the district court erred by holding that the grantors were thereafter prevented from transferring the property by an amendment to the trust documents; and (6) whether the district court erred in concluding that the doctrines of 'reformation, ' 'interlineation, ' and 'correction deed' were not applicable. Both sides request attorney's fees and costs on appeal.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         On April 23, 1990, David E. Benton ("David") and Marvel C. Benton ("Marvel" and with David, the "Bentons") established a joint revocable living trust in Bonneville County, Idaho, which they entitled the "DAVID AND MARVEL BENTON TRUST, dated April 23, 1990" (the "Trust"). The Trust's foundational documents named David and Marvel as both the "Grantors" and the "Trustees" of the Trust.

         On July 1, 2010, David and Marvel executed the Quitclaim Deed, which purported to convey certain real property owned by the Trust to McCarty. The property subject to the Quitclaim Deed is described therein as follows:

The property at 550 Linden Drive and the building known as Benton Engineering building located upon the property and all adjacent parking lots to the South of the Building and to the West of the Building and right of access into the parking lot located at 550 Linden Drive, Idaho Falls, Idaho located in Bonneville County and more commonly known as the Benton Engineering Office Building.

         On November 1, 2010, David and Marvel executed the Second and Irrevocable Amendment to the David and Marvel Benton Trust (the "Second Amendment"). The Second Amendment named two of David and Marvel's children-David Eugene Benton II ("David II") and Barbara Baker ("Baker")-as "Family Co-Trustees." It established that any future action taken by the Trust would have to be authorized by at least one Family Co-Trustee.

         On April 24, 2012, McCarty attempted to record the Quitclaim Deed with the Bonneville County Recorder's Office. Shortly thereafter, she received a letter from the Bonneville County Assessor indicating that: (1) "grantor name is not identical to record owner's name"; (2) "parcel legal description is not complete"; and (3) "parcel legal description is not sufficiently certain for accurate assessment."

         On May 4, 2012, McCarty recorded a revised version of the Quitclaim Deed (the "Revised Quitclaim Deed") with the Bonneville County Recorder's Office. The Revised Quitclaim Deed contained an attachment describing the conveyed property as follows:

Beginning at the Northeast corner of the Benton Engineering office building property, said point lying S89°30'30"E, 120.52 feet and S65°52'00"E, 103.50 feet and S59°34'00"E, 162.95 feet of the Northwest corner of Linden Park Addition, Division No. 1 to the City of Idaho Falls, Bonneville County, Idaho, said point of beginning lying on the westerly ROW line of Linden Drive, and running thence N59°34'00"W, along the northerly line of said property, 128.00 feet; thence S30°26'00"W, 123.00 feet; thence S50°29'26"E, 116.18 feet to said westerly ROW line of Linden Drive; thence along said westerly line, 142.05 feet along the arc of a 1096.74 foot radius curve to the left, whose long chord bears N35°47'57"E, 141.95 feet to the point of beginning. Said property lying in the North half of Section 20, T. 2 N., R. 38 E.B.M.
Contains 0.375 acres, more or less.

         The Revised Quitclaim Deed was signed by David and Marvel but was not signed by either of the Family Co-Trustees.

         On April 9, 2013, the Trust filed a Complaint to Quiet Title and for Accounting (the "Complaint") seeking a determination that McCarty had no right or interest to any the Trust's real property, including the property described in the Revised Quitclaim Deed, and seeking a monetary judgment against McCarty for the use, rents and profits of said property since July 1, 2010.

         On September 25, 2013, McCarty moved for summary judgment against the Trust. On January 3, 2014, the Trust moved for summary judgment against McCarty. In conjunction with the cross-motions for summary judgment, McCarty filed twenty-four affidavits, many of which contained testimony as to what David and Marvel told the respective affiants regarding their intent in drafting the Quitclaim Deed. On January 3, 2014, and September 2, 2014, the Trust moved to strike certain testimony offered by McCarty.

         On October 31, 2014, the district court issued its Memorandum Decision on Parties' Cross-Motions for Summary judgment. In that decision the district court held as follows: (1) "the Court will strike all statements from the affidavits [filed by McCarty] that purport to describe David and Marvel's intent, understanding, and/or capacity on relevance grounds. . . . David and Marvel's intent at the time they signed the deeds is not a material fact for purposes of the issue presented on summary judgment"[1]; (2) "whether a property description is legally sufficient is a question of law for the court to decide"; (3) "the original Quitclaim Deed is void because it did not provide an adequate legal description of the property"; (4) "[b]ecause the [Second Amendment] unambiguously bars David and Marvel from acting as the only two signors on behalf of the trust, they did not have power to sign the [R]evised Quitclaim Deed in [sic] behalf of the Trust"; (5) "[t]he doctrines of reformation, interlineation, and 'correction deed' do not apply and cannot remedy the inadequacies of the first Quitclaim Deed."

         On January 16, 2015, McCarty moved for reconsideration of the district court's decision on summary judgment. Therein, McCarty repeated her arguments that the property description in the Quitclaim Deed was sufficient as a matter of law. She attached new expert affidavits in support along with a property survey performed by Kim Leavitt.

         On April 17, 2015, the district court entered its Memorandum Decision and Order on Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration. Therein, the district court denied McCarty's motion for reconsideration. It noted that: (1) "[j]ust because an expert believes he or she can interpret the intent of a legal description does not mean it complies with the statute of frauds, " and (2) "the new survey prepared by Leavitt supports the [c]ourt's prior ruling. Leavitt's recent survey utilizes a 'reconciled boundary' which clearly could not have originated solely from the description contained in the [Quitclaim Deed]."

         III. Standard of Review

         A. This Court Reviews Evidentiary Rulings for Abuse of Discretion.

When reviewing the trial court's evidentiary rulings, this Court applies an abuse of discretion standard. Dulaney v. St. Alphonsus Reg'l Med. Ctr., 137 Idaho 160, 163-64, 45 P.3d 816, 819-20 (2002). "To determine whether a trial court has abused its discretion, this Court considers whether it correctly perceived the issue as discretionary, whether it acted within the boundaries of its discretion and consistently with applicable legal standards, and whether it reached its decision by an exercise of reason." Perry v. Magic Valley Reg'l Med. Ctr., 134 Idaho 46, 51, 995 P.2d 816, 821 (2000).

State v. Jones, 160 Idaho 449,, 375 P.3d 279, 280 (2016).

         B. This Court reviews Grants of Summary Judgment De Novo.

On appeal from the grant of a motion for summary judgment, we review that decision de novo but apply the same standard used by the district court in ruling on the motion. McColm-Traska v. Valley View Inc., 138 Idaho 497, 65 P.3d 519 (2003); Carnell v. Barker Management, Inc., 137 Idaho 322, 48 P.3d 651 (2002). As a general rule, this Court will affirm the judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c); Carnell, 137 Idaho at 327, 48 P.3d at 656. When making its determination, the Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

Cascade Auto Glass, Inc. v. Idaho Farm Bureau Ins. Co., 141 Idaho 660, 662, 115 P.3d 751, 753 (2005).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Idaho Code section 55-606 does not bar the Trust's quiet ...

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